Fundraising for the Forest


Case Study: National Forest Foundation

The National Forest Foundation engages Americans in promoting the health and public enjoyment of our National Forests. Over the last few years, the National Forest Foundation has enjoyed impressive organic growth in donor acquisition, driven primarily by their restricted Tree Planting program. In FY17, NFF planted 1.8M trees, followed by 2.8M in FY18 and most recently, 5M trees planted in FY19.

NFF was looking to take the opportunity to build on this organic growth and set a strong foundation for future growth that emphasizes unrestricted gifts for ALL of their programming, including:

    • Restoration work that blends an understanding of historical natural conditions with science and the need to adapt to our changing future.
    • Ensuring that forests, watersheds, and habitats can persist and are resilient through diverse impacts over time.
    • Reaching out to communities, individuals and partners, to create ownership and support collective efforts that preserve and embrace these national treasures.
    • Complimenting the U.S. Forest Service’s daily work beyond the status quo by responding in a timely and flexible manner, filling the conservation and stewardship gaps across our treasured forests and grasslands.


The Challenge:

While the NFF had made impressive gains in their tree planting efforts over the years, they needed to take a step back and think holistically in order to take their online individual giving program to the next level. This included everything from source code tracking and email segmentation, to campaign logistics and performance measurement. 

They knew they wanted to start shifting the balance from “restricted” tree-planting gifts to “unrestricted” gifts that could be used more freely to create the greatest amount of impact. Additionally, NFF’s aimed to raise an additional $100,000 in unrestricted gifts. In order achieve their ambitious goals, they knew they needed to increase their overall brand awareness and stand out from other “competitors” in the environmental sector as a whole and the tree-planting space in particular.

The Strategy:

We developed a holistic, multi-channel approach that prioritizes unrestricted revenue while continuing to leverage tree-planting as a means of donor acquisition. We deployed highly targeted direct response fundraising ads across Facebook, Instagram, and Google to generate funds during the wildfire season and throughout the year-end giving period. 

In 2019, the National Forest Foundation was able to grow its unrestricted fundraising revenue substantially.


Increase YOY unrestricted revenue


Increase in the # of online gifts


Increase in total revenue raised


  • Data Measurement Plan + Technical Integration:

    • Created a sourcing structure using UTM codes for tracking campaign and designation for online donations and helped NFF implement that structure across donation pages in all channels 
    • Set up Facebook Pixel and Google Analytics tags on their donation forms and thank you landing pages 
    • Established new rules for NFF’s integration between eTapestry and Mailchimp that were implemented using Zapier integrations set up in partnership with another execution partner
  • Verified good UX while prioritizing unrestricted:

    • Set up new website calls-to-action moving from engagement to donation lightbox popups. 
    • Improved donation navigation on the NFF’s website from a donate button that led to a “ways to give” subpage to a dynamic dropdown donation button that includes unrestricted giving at the top, followed by tree planting and tribute giving options.
    • Implemented new custom donation forms from Blackbaud that had fewer steps in the form process.
    • Updated the language on donation forms to prioritize unrestricted general support (ex: Existing Main Website Unrestricted Donate Form copy included a link to go to the Tree Planting restricted page.)
  • Implemented a Donor First Approach

    Developed life-cycle based and activity-based email segmentation strategy and outbound strategy.

    We created new donor query groups that were tied to donor data fields that were now being included as part of the improved integrations. With the new donation data now in their CRM, we created segments breaking out Active vs Lapsed vs Non-Donors, Sustaining vs One-Time Donors, separate Mid Level and Major giving segments and groups that rolled up All Active Donors and All Lapsed Donors.

    Prior to our work with NFF, they had no segmentation across their email file, nor was their much connection in data between their MailChimp CRM and their donor database, eTapestry. We helped them develop the segments described above using queries in MailChimp and new donor data updated from eTapestry using the Zapier integration we helped set up.

  • Tree Planting v. Gifts of Nature testing in paid media:

    • We tested tree planting messages (ie: “$1 = 1 Tree”) that led to a restricted tree-planting donation page against emergency response, symbolic giving, and Giving Tuesday messaging that led to an unrestricted donation page.
    • We found that a restricted tree-planting message generated the highest volume of donations at the lowest cost
    • This helped guide our resulting strategy: to use tree-planting to acquire the greatest number of donors, and using smart, thoughtful donor nurturing techniques to subsequently “convert” them into unrestricted donors in the months and years to come.


Collectively, the NFF issued 180 grants or contracts in FY 2019. Not included tree planting, NFF invested $7.4M in federal and private funds, which were leveraged with $13.1M in partner-raised funds for a total conservation value of $20.5M.

  • 67,132 acres of wildlife habitat restored or maintained
  • 159 miles of stream surveyed or restored
  • 6,104 acres of noxious weeds treated
  • 5 million trees planted

Ready to drive growth and impact through digital strategies?